First taste of Buskachi today. Imagine a sport that has the horses of polo, the speed and intensity of football, and the scrums of rugby – and you begin to get a feel for buskachi. Instead of a ball, the game is played with the carcass of a goat. I accompanied my colleague (originally from California, but now years in Tajikistan) an hour to the east to a snow-covered field with steep hills on one side and more fields sloping down to the Suhrob River valley on the other. On that field, and all around it (because buskachi has no boundaries), 60 – 70 men on horses are in constant competition. Any rider who manages to get the goat attempts to keep it from the other riders, and after one or two laps around the field, tries to drop the goat into a tire in the middle of the field (“the target”). It is an impressive sight to see two riders, at full gallop, wrestling for control of the goat. It is a rush of adrenalin when those two riders, at full gallop, are coming straight at you. Since there are no boundaries, it is every spectator for themselves when the pack of horses moves in your direction. Several times today the horses passed within a few feet of me – at first I was within a few strides of a tree to that provided an element of protection, but later I was on the steep, snow-covered hillside with other spectators when the riders decided they would take the game right up into the crowd. I took a few quick steps up the hill and when I glanced over my shoulder one of the horses was right behind me on its way up towards the rider carrying the goat to the top of the slope. My friend was knocked over, not by the horses but by the boys scampering out of the way.
The riders compete at this pace for five to six hours, and the intensity increased noticeably in the afternoon. It is common for riders (and sometimes their horses) to fall, which is one of the reasons this is only a winter sport as the snow makes those falls easier to bounce back from. But when the battle for the goat moved to the asphalt road (as it did frequently), there is nothing to cushion the falls, which happened once. It is an intense sport but I never saw anyone get angry – the riders play hard but also look out for each other when someone falls. When a rider (a “chovano”) manages to “throw” the goat into the target, he receives one of the donated prizes – today there were many carpets, which are extremely useful to ward off the Tajik winter. Looking forward to more buskachi before the end of winter.